Reading Hour with Anjum Hasan

There are so many times when you’re reading a book, and you wish you could ask the author something. Right? I’m so happy to be doing Reading Hour because that’s exactly what I get to do. Ask authors questions that play in my mind as I read their work. How cool is that?

So, on 14th November, Atta Galatta was a hub of crazy activity as it was Children’s Day as well. There were kids running around everywhere and we had to wait a while for the place to settle down, for the noise levels to go down. Even then, Anjum and I had one or two kids look down our backs, curiously wondering what we were doing.

Anjum’s latest novel, The Cosmopolitans was the topic of conversation. It’s a remarkably evocative book, filled with sharp insights and keen observation.

I’ve always been fascinated by how authors name their protagonists. Personally speaking I have a tough time naming them. So the protagonist in The Cosmopolitans, Qayenaat has to be one of the most interesting names I’ve seen. I wanted to know if there was some deeper significance to the name but Anjum said that wasn’t so. Qayenaat, aware of her ethereal name drops her second name, Gupta because it’s so plain and real. The drawbacks of this arise later when Qayenaat, tries to claim insurance after her father dies and is declined because she can’t prove she’s her father’s daughter.

Cosmopolitans is filled with such instances of harsh practical reality that intersperse with Qayenaat’s ruminations of life on a higher level. Like the concern with money, which people would consider crass and vulgar but it’s a concern that is real and stares Qayenaat in her face, often as she sees the world around her in a race for it, while she often feels left behind.

Also, a heroine in her fifties, one unencumbered by a husband, children or a marriage is also unusual. Anjum admitted that she wanted someone with a certain amount of experience, a solid amount of life, lived. Qayenaat’s father who makes a mark in the novel through Qayenaat’s ruminations is important and for him to be who he is, a Nehruvian idealist, it’s important for him to have been born at a certain age. It was therefore inevitable that Qayenaat would be anything less than fifty.

Qayenaat’s understanding of Bangalore is spot on. Her assimilation of the different cultures and different worlds that inhabit this city is remarkably insightful. I wanted to know if it was Anjum’s as well and how she managed to create such an intricate picture. Being a writer, I suppose one learns to observe people and surroundings even when we’re not actively aware of it. And Anjum’s experience with working at an art gallery certainly helped.

One of the things I really wanted to know, especially as a writer myself, was why do protagonists sometimes go away to find themselves. Anjum thought it was a relevant question considering how almost all her protagonists have done that.

Honestly, it’s a little difficult to capture the entirety of the event in a blog post. The audience was articulate and asked some insightful questions. But that’s saying neither this nor that. I’ll try and see if we can record some of the future Reading Hour sessions so they can be uploaded here.

Some pics.

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Note:

There is no Reading Hour planned for December. The next session is in January.